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Hospital intensifies efforts to reduce burden of preterm births in Nigeria

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is estimated that 15 million babies are born too early every year globally and approximately one million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth.

However, many survivors face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities, visual and hearing problems. Globally, prematurity is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five years. And in almost all countries with reliable data, preterm birth rates are increasing.

Preterm births are babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy is completed. Also, In low-income settings, half of the babies born at or below 32 weeks (2 months early) die due to a lack of feasible, cost-effective care, such as warmth, breastfeeding support, and basic care for infections and breathing difficulties unlike In high-income countries, where almost all of these babies survive due to optimal use of technology.

Due to the dearth of data in Nigeria, it is projected the number of deaths from preterm could be high taking cognizance of unaccounted births through home deliveries.To change the narratives and outcomes and also to mark World Prematurity Day 2019, Outreach Women and Children’s Hospital Lagos organised an awareness walk to educate the populace about the scourge.

Chief Executive Officer, Outreach Women and Children’s Hospital Group, Dr. Efunbo Dosekun, said that for Nigeria to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 a lot has to be put in place so as to achieve 80 per cent reduction in children’s death. She explained that high blood pressure during pregnancy, leaking of water surrounding the fetus, congenital abnormalities; the baby growing outside the uterus among others is the risk factors that predisposed women to preterm.

The expert said that lack of competence of staff, manpower, low awareness, infrastructural deficit and lack of up to date technology are challenges being faced by the sector.“Taking care of preterm babies requires intensive training and skills and what I will call manual dexterity, using your hands to do a very fine job because they are very tiny. You can imagine passing in consumables and instruments through these babies. So if you are not very careful your own care could be the cause of the problem for these babies,” she added.

Edigibte noted that Nigeria now has an association of passionate doctors and nurses working hard in training to make sure that preterm babies though born too soon, they are not supposed to die.She continued: “mothers must work as an advocate, have good antenatal care, and be conscious of the risk of having premature babies. “Our Health system must be responsive, the private sector should partner the government in this area because they cannot do it alone,” she said.

Also, Chief Operating Officer, Outreach Women and Children’s Hospital Group, Dr. Segun Ebitanmi, said that one out of 10 babies born are premature and one out of four will die.He added that preterm babies do not have to die because of innovative technology and tools to handle such cases.

Ebitanmi said the theme for 2019, ‘Born too Soon: Providing the Right Care, at the Right Time, In The Right Place’ was to raise awareness about preterm because 75 per cent of fatalities are preventable if adequate care and treatment are given.Outreach Women and Children’s Hospital started operations in July 2010 as women and children focused hospital in Lagos. In its current operations, it gives direct access to sick children together with being a Referral Hospital for general practitioners, private maternity hospitals and Lagos State General Hospitals.

According to the WHO, more than three quarters of premature babies can be saved with feasible, cost-effective care, such as essential care during child birth and in the postnatal period for every mother and baby, provision of antenatal steroid injections (given to pregnant women at risk of preterm labour and under set criteria to strengthen the babies’ lungs), kangaroo mother care (the baby is carried by the mother with skin-to-skin contact and frequent breastfeeding) and antibiotics to treat newborn infections. For example, continuity of midwifery-led care in settings where there are effective midwifery services has been shown to reduce the risk of prematurity by around 24 per cent. Preventing deaths and complications from preterm birth starts with a healthy pregnancy. Quality care before, between and during pregnancies will ensure all women have a positive pregnancy experience.

WHO’s antenatal care guidelines include key interventions to help prevent preterm birth, such as counselling on healthy diet and optimal nutrition, and tobacco and substance use; fetal measurements including use of ultrasound to help determine gestational age and detect multiple pregnancies; and a minimum of 8 contacts with health professionals throughout pregnancy to identify and manage other risk factors, such as infections. Better access to contraceptives and increased empowerment could also help reduce preterm births


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